Like the disease itself, cancer treatment and diagnostics comes in many forms. And this number is only increasing as we learn more about the anatomy of the disease and the different ways in which it can be identified.
Diagnostics experts can now look at proteins, biomarkers, DNA structures and even breath samples in some cases to identify more types of cancer faster and more effectively than ever before.
Working in this area, throughout 2018 I’ve kept an eye on a few of these companies and wanted to highlight a few that I think could be worth watching in 2019. As I’ve already said, these are just my suggestions – if you have any of your own to add, then please do let me know in the comments!
One issue with cancer diagnosis is how invasive diagnostic procedures can be. Biopsies, for example, can be traumatic and painful for the patient whilst also taking up valuable surgical time to carry out. That’s why there has been so much research invested into non-invasive alternatives.
Read more about non-invasive diagnostic tests here
One such test which has gained a lot of attention and momentum is CancerSEEK, developed by the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Centre. Theirs is a single blood test which screens for eight common cancer types and helps identify the location of said cancer.
The test screens for cancers of the ovary, liver, stomach, pancreas, oesophagus, colorectum lung or breast which collectively account for more than 60% of the cancer deaths in the USA. The test works through identifying various biomarkers and the hope is that when the test has gained approval for public use, it will eventually cost less than $500.
As mentioned, the ways in which we’re understanding cancer are constantly developing and evolving and researchers in Australia think they may have discovered a new way to detect the disease, potentially opening the door to a rapid diagnosis.
Researchers found that cancer forms a unique DNA structure when placed in water; once the structure is identified (which happens very quickly) cancer can be diagnosed, potentially with everyday devices like a mobile phone.
So far the tests have been carried out on more than 200 samples with around 90% accuracy. Like CancerSEEK, it’s still a long way away from mainstream hospital use, but if successful this method could be hugely beneficial for cancer diagnosis in rural or underdeveloped areas.
It remains to be seen what point-of-care devices are created to accompany the test once ready for the market.
Read more about 5 companies shaking up point-of-care diagnostics here
Colorectal cancer kills a lot of people in Japan and, as a cancer which typically shows no indicators of its presence in the early stages, early detection is a problem. That’s why Japanese firm Hitachi chose to develop their technology for detecting colon (and breast) cancers from urine samples in 2016.
Not a name you’d typically associate with cutting edge diagnostic tech, Hitachi have been collaborating with Nagoya University to see if urine samples can be sent through the post and then be successfully analysed and diagnoses made.
This means tests can be taken periodically instead of when symptoms are displayed – potentially identifying the disease earlier than would have been previously possible.
As an even less invasive procedure than blood testing and combined with super efficient laboratory facilities, thousands could potentially get treatment earlier and more effectively than ever before.
As it stands, the company are hoping for the test to become available in “the 2020’s” depending on regulatory approval.
Dr James McLaughlan, based in the University of Leeds (Charlton Morris’ home city) has been conducting research into developing a treatment for head and neck cancers which could reduce the need for traditional radio and chemotherapy programmes.
The work, which uses a combination of robotics, nanoparticles, ultrasound and lasers involves creating metallic particles which are then attached to cancerous cells before being exposed to laser and ultrasound illumination. This ‘illumination’ forms a bubble around the cancerous cell.
Once the bubbles burst, they emit an ultrasound signal leading to highly effective identification of cancer cells.
These cells can then be treated with thermal ablation through high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU), effectively ‘cooking’ and eliminating the cancer. It’s hoped that this already futuristic-sounding treatment can be further enhanced through automating these processes with a robotic arm.
Robots or not, this treatment has the potential to ultimately reduce the many painful hours of chemo and radio therapy that patients with head and neck cancers currently have to endure whilst recovering.
The second company to receive FDA approval for a biomarker-based cancer treatment, Vitravki is used for the treatment of adult and pediatric patients whose cancers have a specific biomarker.
This approach, looking for ‘common denominators’ of different cancer types instead of simply looking at the location of the cancerous tissue is seen as the future of cancer treatment and, ultimately, the chance of a universal test for cancer.
Vitrakvi received an accelerated approval from the FDA for this treatment, and biomarker based cancer treatments could well be something we see a lot more of in 2019.
With the amount of innovation in oncology at the moment, the progress we’ve made in tackling a disease whose diagnosis was once seen as a life sentence for many is staggering. A diagnosis of cancer is still a scary prospect today, but far removed from even 20 years ago.
The 5 organisations I’ve selected here are all doing fascinating things in the world of cancer diagnostics and treatment, but if there’s anyone else I should be aware of, please join in the conversation in the comments section.